When Chelsea Fagan came back from her Miami vacation in the spring of 2015, her Instagram account was replete with pictures of exotic food and views of the beaches of Florida, but her bank account was very low.
That day she decided to post a picture of her low bank account on Instagram to show her followers how much a gorgeous vacation can really cost. The picture gave birth to #totalhonestytuesday – a hashtag Fagan created to promote authenticity on social media.
“Instagram is like creating a magazine of your life,” said Fagan, the founder of The Financial Diet blog. “It means taking the most beautiful and attractive parts of it and making it look like it’s a whole story.”
UCLA students with thousands of Instagram and Twitter followers have also found that their followers are now demanding more authenticity. Aesthetically pleasing but misleading accounts have led to the development of new trends, such as #totalhonestytuesday and Finstagrams, which are fake Instagram accounts shared with a circle of immediate friends and family as opposed to thousands of strangers.
First-year undeclared student Owen Weitzel said honesty is an emotion he is trying to capture through his photography. Weitzel started his Instagram account called “O.Wen” in 2011, which now boasts 46,000 followers.
In his freshman year of high school, Weitzel lost vision in his left eye and spent three to four months out of school recovering from eye surgeries. During his healing time, his love for photography grew into an Instagram account, now filled with numerous photos of beaches, sunsets and scenery shots from his travels, which he said might give the impression that he has a perfect life.
“I keep it true to myself,” Weitzel said. “I’ve never been into Instagram for the likes or the followers – that happened as a result of my passion for photography.”
He said he shows his followers the person behind the lens by posting photos of places and people that are meaningful to him.
Though he doesn’t tag his photos with #totalhonestytuesday to avoid spamming followers, Weitzel includes a personal caption along with each of his photo posts. He said he writes captions that relate to his true life experiences to show his followers that there is a real person at the heart of his account.
Third-year communication studies student Shaine Behar manages a large social media account called “Shaine (Shay-Knee)” on Twitter. The 5-year-old account has over 240,000 followers, initially created to help Behar’s friend meet Justin Bieber. After using Twitter to reach out to Bieber on several occasions, Behar’s posts eventually caught the attention of Scooter Braun, Bieber’s manager. Braun asked her to post certain content about Bieber that the singer would then retweet on his page, which is how Behar gained the majority of her followers.
Behar said Braun gave her tickets to Bieber’s concert and #BiebsMeetShaine trended worldwide in October 2012.
“I put whatever is going on in my life first,” Behar said. “Twitter was always like a hobby for me, but now I feel like I have this platform and a responsibility to spread positivity.”
Behar said she tweeted about coming to UCLA and how hard it was to become a communication studies student. Her tweet said, “Go after your dream school!” And her followers responded with, “If you can do this, so can I!”
But Behar said she sometimes gets criticism for being cheesy and popular. Since she receives a lot of judgment from certain social media users, she said her Twitter account doesn’t display her personal information.
“I’m not as positive as I project myself to be on Twitter because everybody has emotions and everybody has bad days,” Behar said.
She said she tries to remain honest with her followers about her posts.
Because Behar has over 24,000 followers on Instagram, she has a Finstagram account, meant for close friends only, which helps her keep her privacy. Behar said she doesn’t wish to hide away from her followers, but is worried that her personal Finstagram account might be exposed.
“No one should live their lives to please their followers,” Behar said.
Behar said she currently does not participate in #totalhonestytuesday but recognizes how it creates a space that allows users to relate to one another’s vulnerability.
Fagan said social media posts often display a partial reality but she believes people should actively fight against presenting a perfect appearance. To promote realism on Instagram, every week Fagan posts a picture collage of life events, selfies and confessions that #totalhonestytuesday users send her, but usually keep off of their social media accounts.
Fagan said she has two favorite types of honest pictures.
The first is when people post pictures of pills or of themselves in a hospital. She said she really appreciates these photos because sickness is a part of people’s lives that they usually would never share.
The second is when people post beautiful photos, yet reveal an unexpected truth about the post. For example, a picture of a book or a newspaper with a coffee cup posted with a truthful caption explaining that the book was never read – just put on the floor next to coffee for aesthetics.
Miriam Posner, the UCLA Digital Humanities Program Coordinator, said the rise of the trends such as Finstagrams and #totalhonestytuesday is natural. The demand for truthful social media accounts, she said, comes from an individual’s long-held frustration with being perfect.
Adolescents and young women in particular, she said, are sometimes subjected to huge amounts of scrutiny and pressure to look and act perfect.
Posner said there are different ways of dispersing flawless personal identities online, so many feel besieged by the amount of information they get about other people’s lives. Students can feel pressure to live up to the overload of perfect, yet misleading accounts they believe to be a reality.
“There are a lot of young women who become popular strictly because of their appearance, just because they are very pretty,” Fagan said.
Fagan believes another problem with maintaining perfect social media accounts is that keeping these accounts pretty and popular requires a lot of money.
Companies have approached both Behar and Weitzel with multiple offers to promote products. Behar said a tea company once asked her to post a picture with their tea, but because she believes in social media authenticity and doesn’t drink tea, Behar declined the offer.
Similarly, Weitzel said he strives to maintain a genuine social media atmosphere.
“I would never lie to someone and say, ‘I use this product,’ if I didn’t believe in its proficiency,” Weitzel said. “I never lie to the people who are following me. I need to stay true to myself.”
Weitzel said there are few traces of advertising on his Instagram, but he is not opposed to working with companies. Recently he worked with Mazda on a photo campaign specifically for Instagram.
Weitzal added that with regards to the advertising opportunities, the companies he decides to collaborate with, for example, Coke Zero, are ones that he feels truly passionate about or ones that won’t affect how he presents himself to his followers.
“I don’t want to sell out,” he said.
While many social media stars are conscious of authenticity online, dishonesty is still prevalent in social media today. However, Posner said, despite the dishonesty online, young adults are not easily manipulated; they are always looking for indicators of honesty and genuine emotion.
“A lot of (people) are developing intelligent filters that help them realize when someone is being dishonest or trying to sell a product to them,” Posner said.